Mark Shuey 

Mark Shuey has been teaching martial arts in Tahoe since 1976. | Courtesy Cane Masters

Throughout Mark Shuey Sr.’s life, he has served in the Army, worked as a home inspector, a general contractor and an Incline Village preschool owner. However, the one constant thing that has stuck with him over the years is his passion for martial arts. With more than 55 years of experience, Shuey has even come to develop his own self-defense system using a common walking aid: the cane.

He moved to Lake Tahoe in 1976 and began teaching martial arts in the community. In 1981, Shuey was going for his third-degree black belt in hapkido, a Korean martial art that focuses on joint locks, throwing techniques and grappling as self-defense, when he discovered the power of the cane.

“I realized this could be used as a weapon for self defense,” he says. “I found that there were no good strong canes on the market, so I started making them.”

In 1995, Shuey opened a business called Cane Masters based in Incline Village. The canes are made from American hardwoods, sculpted by veterans in Ohio and refined in Nevada. Ninety-percent of canes purchased are custom ordered — the length from one’s wrist to the ground is measured. Each cane has come to be a work of art, some available with shark’s teeth grooves in the shaft and or an eagle or snake head as part of the handle.

“It’s a medical device that happens to be one that can save your life.”
– Mark Shuey

He sells canes to people in France, Germany, Australia and in the U.S. to people ages 30 and older, especially those who may be disabled or blind. In 2008, the term “Cane-fu” was coined as the art of self defense for the elderly.

In 2009, the cane system took off when the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) picked it up.


Mark Shuey demonstrates how to fend off an attack. | Paul Minne

“People called crying and telling me thank you for looking out for them,” says Shuey.

He believes that with 10,000 people turning 65 per day, in the U.S. alone, a rapidly rising vulnerable population may be better off using the cane to protect themselves. However, he says that senior citizens are the hardest people to sell canes to.

Recently, Shuey saw a man hunched over and shuffling into the local post office at a snail’s pace and asked him if he’d ever considered using a cane.

“He said no because it would make him look old. Obviously, he hadn’t looked in a mirror,” says Shuey.

People may not want to carry a cane because of the stigma attached, but it has many benefits.

“One guy had absolutely no balance, but he learned how to use a cane and totally got his balance back. Now he’s back out there skiing regularly,” says Shuey. “A lot of people come in hunched over and a few hours later they are standing up straight. They feel like a warrior again.”

Shuey tells the story of one veteran who had no legs in a wheelchair and had once fended off attackers with his cane.

“When thugs see a person walking with [or displaying] confidence with a cane, they back off because they don’t want to get hurt,” he says.

One of the first Cane-fu self-defense methods Cane Masters teaches is how to do a simple figure eight using the horn to wield quick movements to evade an attack. It’s best to learn how to avoid the situation altogether, but, if an attack is inevitable, then a couple of easy moves will have the assailant regretting his decision. For example, simply throwing the cane out in front of you as someone is advancing can hit the person at a force up to 250 mph.

“First I teach people how to get out of the situation,” says Shuey.

But if that is unavoidable, Shuey will demonstrate a few short-range, mid-range and full-range motions with the cane.

“Far back in history, you were banished for waving a cane in front of a king,” he says. “But then the last 300 years or so it changed to where it started being used as a crutch.”

That’s about when its use shifted from being a self-defense mechanism to a medical walking aid.

“It’s a medical device that happens to be one that can save your life,” Shuey says. “I think [the cane system] is something everyone should learn, especially women. And if you have to carry something, why not be proud of what it is?”

Shuey teaches the American Cane System three days a week at Cane Masters in Incline Village, Nev. For more information, visit